Alumni Q&A: Karl Rosenblum (MS'88)

“I think being curious and a lifelong learner is essential, especially at the current pace of technology.” – Karl Rosenblum

As Head of Global Capacity and Risk Strategy for Alcon, Karl Rosenblum (MS Ceramic Engineering ’88) is responsible for maintaining the capacity outlook for its vision care and surgical franchises. Drawing on his extensive experience in manufacturing capacity analysis and manufacturing strategy, he has helped to secure more than half a billion dollars in expansion capital.

Before joining Alcon in 2009, he worked for Ciba Vision, where he focused on strategy and capacity analysis, machine and process validation, new product development, packaging engineering, and project management.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Boston, but my family moved to Birmingham, Alabama when I was seven. I grew up there and attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where I earned my BS in materials engineering.

Why did you major in engineering?

I’ve always been interested in medicine and engineering. I think it’s the practical nature of solving problems and making things better.

What drew you to the materials science field?

I was interested in the developing work in ceramics for medical implants and in the use of ceramics in creating high-efficiency engines. It’s funny, I was swayed by the shiny new fiber optics program at Rutgers and ended up going into this specialty.

What do you most value about your Rutgers education?

Besides its focus on ceramic engineering, it’s a good school, with top-level professors, good caliber students from all over the country and the world, and great facilities with cutting-edge technology and resource labs.

Did any professors make an impact on you?

Dr. Lisa Klein, who took a chance on accepting a boy from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Dr. George Sigel who I worked under to get my masters in the Fiber Optics Materials Research Program.

How did your Rutgers education prepare you for you career?

Work on my thesis, “Fiber Optic Magnetometer Using the Faraday Effect,” helped me get a job in R&D. Those skills have come in handy in all my jobs, regardless of whether they were in R&D.

Has your engineering education influenced your career success?

Engineering gives you a practical toolkit for problem solving. You never know where your career will take you in terms of roles and industries, but you can take a similar approach whether it is in R&D, operations, or even marketing.

What other influences have impacted your path?

I think you have to be open to new experiences. When I was director of engineering for a start-up making cast-to-prescription eyeglass lenses, a maintenance tech said, “Whenever we find a problem you never say ‘that’s bad.’ You say ‘that’s curious.’ I think being curious and a lifelong learner is essential, especially at the current pace of technology.

What leadership lessons have you learned?

The people I’ve admired the most come into tough situations but somehow their involvement cuts the problem down to size and they calmly give direction and next steps. Tension drops and you begin to sense optimism. This is the style I like to emulate.

If you made any mistakes along the way what have you learned from them?

I think I had this concept of climbing the corporate ladder, checking the boxes, and magically ending up as a CEO somewhere. The real path is a series of ups, downs, and laterals – so you need to keep your eye on the long-term strategy.

What is the most important quality in a managerial skill set?

As a manager you have two objectives: to keep your eye on the Key Process Indicators (KPIs) and wisely guide your staff on delivering those goals and removing obstacles.

What do you look for when hiring?

I was taught the technique of behavioral interviewing and that seems to have stuck with me. I mean, you have to meet the hiring criteria and explain how you would be the right fit in terms of experience, but during the interview I tend to throw out scenarios and ask how you might respond. This gives me an idea of your ability to solve problems.

Have you ever served as a mentor?

I have mentored people informally on the job and like sharing what I’ve learned with different people. I’m currently a business plan advisor to the Prison Entrepreneurship Program that goes to Texas prisons to teach inmates entrepreneurial skills –everything from etiquette to how to create an idea and do a pitch and make a business plan. Volunteering for this terrific organization has been a valuable experience for me. The recidivism rate for this program is only seven percent – elsewhere it is more than 50 percent.

What did you do for fun at Rutgers?

I came from Alabama and so spent a lot of time exploring New York City. Closer to campus, Melody Bar played good dance music – I liked going there with friends.

You like dance music. Do you play an instrument?

I played electric violin with a jangle pop band for three years in Athens, before I moved to Fort Worth. We played everything from Tom Petty and Dylan to the Beatles and Green Day.

What do you do these days for fun?

I like challenges with goals and am willing to give them a shot. In 1996, I finished the Athens to Atlanta, Georgia 86-mile in-line skating marathon in 8 hours. It was exhausting – but exciting to have done it. I’ve run the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m a fan of craft beer and am working on getting my name on a plate at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium in Fort Worth, Texas for drinking 200 unique beers. I’m currently at 100.

Do you have a favorite?

I lean towards IPAs. I like Dallas’ Community Beer Company’s Mosaic IPA.

How else do you challenge yourself?

I’m always challenging myself. I created an iPhone app as sort of a lark that lets you see how long it would take you to meet writer Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours to become an expert” criteria. It was on the app store for a while, but isn’t any longer.

Do you have a favorite app?

I like Fitbit and iHeartRadio.

Where would you go if you could go on a vacation tomorrow?

The Florida panhandle’s Santa Rosa beach has beautiful white sand and clear blue water.